'Listen, we want this': With city's help, yoga center to stay in Belleville

News-DemocratJuly 8, 2013 

— The future of Sukha Yoga Center was uncertain when owner Sarah Fraser learned she would have to move by the end of July, but after asking for help, she said the city has embraced her business.

John Conkright, owner of Ben's downtown, is Fraser's landlord. The City Council recently approved a deal with Conkright, allowing him to expand and renovate areas downtown.

Included in this deal was the demolition of a building at 18 S. High St., which houses Sukha Yoga Center. The city paid Conkright $185,000 for the building, which will be turned into a parking lot.

"One of my students read it in the paper and came in and told me, 'I heard they're selling your business,' and I was like, 'Wait, what?'" Fraser said. "I would have rather had a heads-up, 'Hey, I'm thinking about selling the building,' but it is what it is."

Mayor Mark Eckert said when he was negotiating with Conkright, he knew the South High Street building had a tenant on a month-to-month basis, but it was Conkright's business to work that out, not the city's.

Fraser wrote a letter to the mayor, asking for assistance in the form of relocation options and remodeling expenses.

"I asked the city for some help. If you want me to stay here, help," Fraser said. "I got a room full of people right now. As soon as they get done, ... they're going to go shopping. They're going to eat something."

Fraser posted the letter on Sukha Yoga's website and invited her yoga students and supporters to write letters as well.

"A lot of the students were telling the city of Belleville, 'I wouldn't be (in) downtown Belleville if it wasn't for coming to this class,'" Fraser said. "Majority of my population here (have) disposable income. They can't spend large amounts of money, but they can afford to have a sushi roll after the noon class."

Mary Housman, having attended Fraser's yoga classes for three years, said she was happy to write a letter to the mayor.

"I mentioned to the mayor because I'm coming to downtown Belleville, after yoga, I normally do shopping and eat lunch here and then hit the grocery store and other stores on the way back," Housman said. "I'm giving a lot more business to the Belleville area just because I'm coming to yoga."

Housman said the yoga center is important to her and she goes out of her way every week to make it to the class.

"I live in Clinton County, so I make the trip to the yoga center because she's such a great teacher," Housman said. "At my age, I was having joint issues and, with yoga, I no longer have them. I currently come three days a week because it's helped me so much."

The city took notice of Fraser and her small business by responding to her plea and the concerns of her students.

Eckert said the city helped by suggesting a few available locations. Being a small business owner himself, Eckert said he tries to encourage the city to do everything it can to help other small businesses.

"I know day-in and day-out what small businesses go through. ... I know the ups and downs," Eckert said. "My hope is that this has a positive ending, or new beginning, for her and her customers with the new location."

Fraser said she is pleased with the outcome.

"I'm just happy with the mayor's response, and that I did get a response -- that was very exciting," Fraser said. "I'm just grateful to all my students who said, 'Listen, we want this.' I'm grateful that the city has taken something that is strange like yoga and embraced it and said, 'This is part of our community.'"

Fraser said she also wanted to know how Eckert could help facilitate her business even after the move.

"The city has been very helpful," Fraser said. "They've even said that they're going to see about putting bike racks in because a lot of my students ride their bikes to yoga."

Fraser said she has plans to close on a lease soon. The location will remain in the downtown area at 6 South Church Street.

"It was because of the letter. If I wouldn't have put that letter out there, I probably would have just closed business and left," Fraser said. "If the city doesn't know, if anybody doesn't know, then they can't help."

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